Geopolitics

Modi Putting India's Future At Risk With Kashmir Gambit

It's taken the powerful prime minister just 100 days into his second term to compromise the federation's basic foundation.

Modi speaking in New Delhi on Aug. 15
Modi speaking in New Delhi on Aug. 15
Prem Shankar Jha

-Analysis-

DELHI — Had the Chandrayaan-2 Moon lander not failed, it would have been our media-hungry prime minister and not Minister Prakash Javadekar who would have addressed the press conference in Delhi this past Sunday. It was, after all, the 100th day of Modi's second term in office.

Javadekar (who serves as Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and as Minister of Information and Broadcasting) tried to make the best of a miserable deal: He steered clear of the economy's collapse and near the three-fold increase in youth unemployment in the past seven years, and took credit for amending the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act that has turned India into a police state.

But his primary selling point for Modi's government was its "full integration of Kashmir into India" by simply abolishing Article 370, and turning Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh into union territories under the direct rule by the Centre — something that no other government had had the "courage" to do so far.

Neither Prime Minister Modi nor Minister of Home Affairs have bothered to ask themselves whether the restraint of their predecessors was cowardice or sagacity. This is because neither seem to be aware of the chasm that separates bravery from foolhardiness. Courage presupposes foresight: a careful weighing of risks and benefits before adopting a course of action. Foolhardiness requires only the "courage" to make a blind leap into the dark, hoping one will land on one's feet.

Indian federalism is a living, breathing, entity.

On Aug. 5, Modi and Shah made that leap. Today, it is apparent to those who have not been swept away by the prime minister's self-congratulatory oratory, that he and Amit Shah have landed on the first step that leads to the disintegration of the Indian Union.

The reason is because by dissolving a federating state of the Indian Union and bringing it under direct central rule for howsoever brief a period of time, Modi has set a precedent that, if not overruled, can be used by a future government to convert any part, or even all of the Union, into a unitary state. This will not only destroy the most basic feature of the constitution — i.e. the federal structure of the Indian Union — but also negate the political rationale that underlies it.

Ethnic allegiances

The reality that not only Modi but many constitutional theorists are only dimly aware of is that Indian federalism is not based upon administrative convenience or date of acquisition of a particular territory, as is the federalism of the United States, Canada and Australia. We already had that form of federalism under the Government of India Act of 1935 and lost no time in changing it drastically.

Today's India is a federation of far older ethno-nations, several of which have had a distinct identity for more than two millennia. These have had distinct cultural and political identities long before the Indian Union was born. This fact is explicitly acknowledged by the constitution which describes India as a "Union of States," a clear admission that the "states' in some manner pre-existed the union and are the federating parties that created it.

The primacy of ethnicity was asserted at the cost of his life by Potti Sriramulu, the creator of Andhra Pradesh, in 1953 and conceded by Jawaharlal Nehru in the same year by creating the States Reorganisation Commission, with a mandate to redraw the boundaries of the existing provinces and create new states on the basis of language.

Anti-Modi protest on Aug. 27 — Photo: Jan Ali Laghari/Pacific Press/ZUMA

So vigorously has ethnicity been defended that this process took another three decades to complete — with the separation of Gujarat from Maharashtra, the re-creation of Punjabi Suba as the homeland the Sikhs lost with Partition, and the states of the northeast and Goa — before a stable federation finally emerged.

Indian federalism is therefore a living, breathing, entity. Its central purpose is to protect the ethnic identities of its peoples while expanding the field of their opportunities. This has been the glue that has successfully bound the most diverse region in the world into a single, modern nation-state.

Article 370 was one of the most important safeguards to India's ethnic diversity because it protected the distinct, syncretic culture of a Muslim majority state that opted for India — both its maharaja and its people — in order to protect that identity, Kashmiriyat. It is not surprising, therefore, that Article 371, which gives similar protection to 10 other Indian states, is modeled on Article 370.

Thus, as elements in Nagaland and Mizoram have already pointed out, if the Supreme Court allows the president to dissolve Kashmir's statehood, it can open the gates for some future government to dissolve theirs as well. What is more, this unease is bound to infect other, larger states as well, especially Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Bengal and Assam.

The great betrayal

So great was the Kashmiris' trust in India's secularism that their faith in it was not shaken even by 20 years of Indian mistrust, and military rule. As a result, in 2009 a survey of public opinion in the Kashmir Valley, conducted by the London-based Royal Institute for International Affairs, found that even in the four worst-affected districts of the Valley, only 2.5-7.5% of Kashmiris said they would like to belong to Pakistan. By definition, this meant that the vast majority who wanted azadi ("independence") did not want it at the cost of cutting their economic, educational and medical ties with India.

That was the near-peace that Modi inherited in 2014. But within three months of his swearing-in, he had destroyed that half-built edifice by publicly humiliating the Hurriyat political alliance, terminating the tacit tripartite dialogue of which it had been a part since 2004, and raining "10-for-1" fire across the Line of Control in reply to sporadic ceasefire violations by Pakistani soldiers.

The glue that has successfully bound the most diverse region in the world into a single, modern nation-state.

The most damaging of all has been the change in the television media from sympathetic neutrality to a perfervid hyper-nationalism. Suddenly there were no more azadi advocates in Kashmir, no more militants, no more stone-throwers, no more disaffected youth needing to be persuaded back into the mainstream. All were simply terrorists.

These views and comments, aired relentlessly along with news of cow vigilantism, the incidents of Muslims being lynched in different parts of India, and acquittal after acquittal in the cases of bomb blasts in mosques, madrassas and trains designed expressly to kill Muslims, had completed the alienation of all but a handful. The scrapping of Article 370 is, for them, the last straw.

Like other would-be conquerors, Modi does not know the meaning of the word "retreat." So his response to the return of militancy has been to use more and more force. When this too failed, he decided to eliminate the problem altogether by eliminating Kashmir. But that too is not happening. One month has passed since the government dissolved the state into two Union territories, but the Kashmir Valley is still under a siege that the world has not seen since medieval times. Worse, Amit Shah announced that it will continue for another 20-25 days.

The future of Kashmir, and therefore of India-Pakistan relations, is so dark that it does not bear thinking about. But the main threat that Modi's actions pose to India does not lie outside its borders. They lie inside it, because if not stopped by the Supreme Court, what he has started could very easily presage the disintegration of the Indian Union.

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Society

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel

-Essay-

BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.


Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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